Sarkozy heads to US for long-awaited visit with Obama
French President Nicolas Sarkozy (left) arrives in the United States for a visit on Monday and Tuesday where he will meet with US President Barack Obama at the White House.
AFP - It may be a welcome break from woes at home for French President Nicolas Sarkozy as he meets this week at the White House with US President Barack Obama, who is fresh off a landmark health care success.
Sarkozy is riding out some rough times. He has been forced to backtrack on some signature reforms as his popularity sinks and his party reels from defeat in regional elections.
Obama meanwhile signed a reform bill into law last week that has become the centerpiece of his presidency, a landmark achievement providing health coverage to 30 million Americans and the most far-reaching US social legislation in decades.
After awaiting and even requesting a meeting with Obama for months, Sarkozy will finally be in the United States Monday and Tuesday, and the focus-shifting trip could not come at a better time. Sarkozy has come under increasing criticism even from supporters for being a bit too iconoclastic.
So there is no time like the present for Sarkozy to turn the transatlantic trip into a presidential credentials-burnishing exercise.
Monday the French president will have a discussion with and give a speech to students at Columbia University in New York, and then meet with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
In Washington, the French leader will have an the Oval Office meeting with his charismatic US counterpart.
Topping off the diplomatic whirl: Sarkozy and his supermodel songstress wife Carla Bruni have been invited by Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama to finish the day with a cozy dinner for four in their private White House quarters.
France's Elysee presidential palace, keen to downplay reports of tensions between the US and French leaders, has hailed what it saw as a "first" in the invitation to a private dinner with the US presidential couple.
"The dinner is an intimate thing," said a western diplomat. "You invite an important statesman at a state dinner, but you invite a friend into your home."
The bilateral relationship is back on track again, US and French officials say. The dark hours of US intervention in Iraq have been forgotten, it appears, and both sides are quick to underscore their convergence of views and how they are working together.
Much has been written in the French press about Sarkozy's supposed bitterness at not being Obama's go-to man in Europe and his dashed hopes of forging a special relationship to supplant the London-Washington axis.
The visit follows months of whispers from the Elysee aired in the French press and directed at Obama, who at times is dismissed as indecisive and a leader who scored a major failure at the Copenhagen climate change summit.
Among issues the leaders are expected to take up are Iran and its suspect nuclear program, the Middle East and Africa. Obama also was expected to reiterate to Sarkozy that more French troops would be welcome in Afghanistan.
But the Elysee palace has just said no. "Our troop levels are not set to please allies," one official said in Paris.
One bone of contention to be discussed is a huge US military contract to supply 179 tanker planes. France has accused Washington of protectionism by seeking to favor Boeing over Europe's Airbus.
After angrily dropping out of the competition, Airbus' parent company EADS has opened talks with the Pentagon on extending the deadline for bids for the 35-billion-dollar (26-billion-euro) contract.